This weekend’s fall preview of Palm Springs’s beloved Modernism Week lets you soak in the architectural spoils without the crowds.

By Andrea Bennett
October 09, 2015

It seems that the whole world wants a little bit of Palm Springs right now. It’s never been out of favor, really, though the demographic has changed in its 75 years—going from Hollywood escapees and design cognoscenti to cool-hunters, festival-goers, and those seeking run-down homes with great Midcentury Modernist bones.

Leonardo DiCaprio snapped up the former Dinah Shore house last year (yours nightly for $4,500). The Uptown Design District is buzzing with art galleries and culinary hot spots. And the Palm Springs Art Museum opened its Edwards Harris Pavilion, an architecture and design center, in a 1950s bank building designed by E. Stewart Williams (coincidentally, the museum’s own architect).

Louis Vuitton’s creative director Nicolas Ghesquière showed the label’s resort collection at the John Lautner masterpiece that is the Bob and Dolores Hope Estate here last May, with everyone from LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault to Kanye West taking in the Coachella-inspired pieces modeled by popsicle-lapping models. Come February, when Palm Springs holds its annual Modernism Week (February 11 through 21), it will seem like the whole world—all doing their best to look as if they’ve emerged from a Slim Aarons photo—has descended on this little desert town, for 10 nights of cocktail parties, lectures, and home tours. Last year saw about 80,000 visitors, roughly the attendance of Art Basel Miami Beach.

It’s maddeningly fabulous, but maddeningly crowded. What if there was a way to see all the good stuff before the throngs close in? There is. Over this Columbus Day weekend, currently forecast at nothing short of gloriously warm and sunny, Modernism Week holds its Fall Preview, a chance to experience the famous event on a smaller, and possibly more appealing, scale.

The preview is full of walking and bus tours of historic neighborhoods, like the golden-era Hollywood homes in Old Las Palmas and the swanky South End; a cocktail party and decorative arts sale sneak peek at the Palm Springs Air Museum; a tour of Frank Sinatra’s “Twin Palms” estate; and more. It’s a popular weekend, but not a zoo.

You can stay in the gloriously rainbow-hued Saguaro Palm Springs, whose colors seem unnaturally bright, but are in fact based on native desert wildflowers. More importantly, the hotel houses the incredible Tinto restaurant from James Beard Award-winner Jose Garces, with a mouth-watering menu of Basque-inspired pintxos, like pork belly montadito and piquant boquerones.

Kurt Cyr, the Midcentury Modern architecture expert and food historian, offers a Palm Springs Mod Squad tour (which you can book year-round, not just during Modernism Week), a 90-minute zip through historic neighborhoods to see groundbreaking architectural works by the six local architects who shaped the look of the city.

In his spare time, Cyr forages for juniper berries in the Coachella Valley that are the basis of his homemade gin, and during preview weekend, he’ll be weaving tales of how the martini became the icon of midcentury cool inside the Hotel Lautner, John Lautner’s 1947 desert hideaway. Not everything requires tickets; a just-added midcentury bike ride in the chic Indian Canyons Country Club area starts and ends at the neighborhood favorite Appetito (try out the Negroni cocktail menu after the ride). The Saguaro is lending its bikes for the free ride, or you can bring your own.

Takeaway tip: Although you might not have been sitting by a Coppola or a Getty at that Vuitton show, you can buy what they got in their goody bags at The Body Deli (worth the 20-minute detour to Palm Desert), whose addictive natural Spa collection is made of Coachella Valley Medjool dates, grapefruit, ginger and jasmine, and looks very mod on your bathroom counter at home.

Andrea Bennett is the Editor in Chief of Vegas Magazine, and covers the Las Vegas beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @AndreaBennett1.